Two civilians with the U.S Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, or AMSAA, decided late last year to retire at the same time. They had more than 77 years of combined service to the organization, in which they had met, married and raised a family.
Gary and Denise Drake made their retirement official in December 2016 and they look back on the organization as a part of their family history.
Gary Drake was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He lived in nearby Dallas, Pennsylvania until the third grade when his father went to work for the Bureau of Mines in Schuylkill Haven. The family moved to the Aberdeen Proving Ground area after Drake finished the 6th grade. His father had taken a job with the Limited War Laboratory at APG and the family settled in the Carsins Run area of Aberdeen.
Drake graduated from Aberdeen Senior High School in 1972. He and his twin brother graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1976; Drake with a degree in mathematics and his brother’s in entomology.
“We had different interests,” Drake said. “Math was always my favorite subject in school, which led to me majoring in math in college.”
He went on to obtain a master’s in operations research from Johns Hopkins University in 1983.
He recalled an interesting job that put him and his brother through college. His father, who was a metallurgical engineer, had started a charcoal business in the 1950s. The senior Drake designed and built a charcoal retort out of a Stegmaier Beer storage tank.
“It was huge,” Drake said. “You would load it with 6-to-8 tons of wood to make the charcoal.”
He said one of his father’s patented inventions, called a Kindle Pac, was used to start coal fire furnaces which were commonly used from the 1950s to the 1980s.
“That part of the business was very profitable,” Drake said. “My brother and I worked the business during our summers, which more than paid for our college expenses. I was told that was the part on my resume that got me hired at [APG] after college.”
Drake began his AMSAA career July 19, 1976. He first crossed paths with his future wife, shortly after she started working there Oct. 17, 1979.
Denise Drake was born and raised in Moscow, Pennsylvania. She graduated from North Pocono High School, where she was a member of the ski club, in 1973. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Shippensburg University in 1977 and taught math for two years in Northeastern Pennsylvania before landing the AMSAA position.
“I had applied for a job with the Navy in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania but accepted the position at AMSAA instead,” she said.
She had no idea how fortuitous the decision to accept the position would turn out to be. Her office was directly across the hall from Gary Drakes’ and the two hit it off. Both their parents lived only about 40 miles apart in Northeast Pennsylvania so they shared rides home to visit their families and then began dating. They married in June 1981.
The Drakes shared a love of the outdoors and winter sports that they passed on to their one son and two daughters.
“We worked nine-hour days at AMSAA and had off every other Friday,” Gary Drake recalled. “We kept two snowmobiles in the Poconos [where] we would go in the winter on our Friday off and ski while the resorts were not too crowded, then snowmobile the rest of the weekend when the resorts were busy.”
He said his father, who eventually sold his patent to the Kindle Pac, “really enjoyed working at APG,” and that this was the main reason he applied to work on the installation.
He spent his entire career, totaling 40 years and four months, at APG. Likewise, Denise Drake spent 37 years and three months with AMSAA.
Gary Drake left AMSAA for one year to work with the Human Engineering Laboratory, known as HEL, which was also located on the installation.
“I started at HEL in 1986 and returned to AMSAA one year later,” he said, adding, he always likes to tell people he’s been “to HEL and back.”
He said neither of them ever harbored serious thoughts about leaving the organization until they retired.
“It was just too difficult to leave AMSAA,” he said. “The job was very important and rewarding, the people were extremely nice to work with and there was such a variety of work that you could stay in one organization and feel like you worked in several.
“We both always thought it was so nice to not be like millions of other people who hate to get up and go to their jobs. We never felt that way working at AMSAA.”
Though they still love skiing, the Drakes appreciate warm weather as well. They spend a great deal of time in Florida when not visiting their children in Maryland and Connecticut.
Gary Drake said retiring was a tough decision.
“It was difficult to leave the job and the people we worked with but we just decided it was time to try something different.”
One change over the years that stands out for the pair is the dramatic change that took place regarding access to the installation before and after 9/11.
“Getting to APG was so much easier prior to 9/11 and [base realignment and closure,” Gary Drake said. He noted that it took 40-45 minutes to get to work from Delaware, where they lived after they married. But after they moved to Maryland the changes that took place after 9/11 and then base realignment and closure, or BRAC, turned their 40-45-minute commute into a one-hour commute each way.
Still the installation harbors fond memories for the couple and they wish it well on its 100th birthday.
When asked what sentiment he would write congratulating the installation on its 100th anniversary in a fictitious “APG Book of Memories,” Gary Drake wrote, “Thanks for providing a place where highly trained professionals can collaborate and provide the highest quality weapons and equipment for the safety and effectiveness of the warfighter.”